House Passes Bill to Limit EPA Authority on Water Quality

The House of Representatives has passed legislation intended to give more control to the states to regulate the nation’s water quality.

On July 13, the House of Representatives passed legislation intended to shift the primary responsibilities for water pollution control back to the states to regulate the nation’s water quality. The legislation is dubbed the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, and is sponsored by John Mica (R-FL), Nick Rahall (D-WV), and Bob Gibbs (R-OH) among others.

The Congressmen believe that the Environmental Protection Agency has overstepped its bounds in regulating water quality on a per-state basis. The stated purpose of the bill is to restrict the EPA’s ability to “second-guess or delay a state’s permitting and water quality certification decisions under the CWA [Clean Water Act of 1972] once EPA has already approved a state’s program.”

Speaking about passage of the bill, Rep. Bob Gibbs said, “In recent years the EPA has begun to use questionable tactics to usurp the states’ role under the Clean Water Act in setting water quality standards and to invalidate legally issued permits by the states. The agency has decided to get involved in the implementation of state standards, second-guessing states with respect to how standards are to be implemented and even second-guessing EPA’s own prior determinations that the state standards meet the minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act. HR 2018 was introduced to clarify and restore the long standing balance that has existed between the states and the EPA as co-regulators of the Clean Water Act. It reins in EPA from imposing one-size-fits-all regulations on the states, and I am pleased that the House has approved this important legislation.”

The EPA summarizes the Clean Water Act of 1972 on its Web site as follows:

The Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. The basis of the CWA was enacted in 1948 and was called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, but the Act was significantly reorganized and expanded in 1972. “Clean Water Act” became the Act’s common name with amendments in 1977.

Under the CWA, EPA has implemented pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry. We have also set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters.

The CWA made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained. EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program controls discharges. Point sources are discrete conveyances such as pipes or man-made ditches. Individual homes that are connected to a municipal system, use a septic system, or do not have a surface discharge do not need an NPDES permit; however, industrial, municipal, and other facilities must obtain permits if their discharges go directly to surface waters.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.